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Foreword and introduction


Brian Batson wrote in 1994:

Over the past ten years there has been a growing tendency to attempt to get the community either individually or collectively to become involved in the delivery of services at a local level.

The citizens charter, community care, the Housing Acts and City Challenge all offer the community an opportunity to play a role as either partners, providers or consumers. However, it is seductively easy to rush into participation that can be fraught with dangers.

Before getting involved both the service providers and the community would do well to pause for thought. What level of participation do we want? What are the pitfalls? What is the best way of going about it? These are all questions that the community and the service providers (statutory as well as voluntary) should seek to answer before embarking on a participatory journey.

Too often in the past the road to participation has been paved with good intentions only to lead up time consuming and wasteful dead-ends which result in disillusionment and resentment for all concerned.

Participation, like democracy, has meant many things to many people. The opportunities for participation are there to be grasped but only if all those involved have a common understanding and share a common language.

This guide provides both a theoretical framework for common understanding and a dictionary to facilitate the dialogue that can lead to successful participation. The guide also provides practical advice on tools and techniques that can be used to identify blocks and find solutions.

Reflecting on my own experience of working as a local authority community worker, a consultant and now in a new university I can readily see how the guide could be useful in a variety of ways and settings.

For instance, in teaching the guide could provide a starting point to examine the whole concept of participation and the potential pitfalls. In a consultancy/training role the guide could be used to assist the client establish where they are on the `map' of participation and also where they consider the other players to be. This analysis should provide the basis for more reasoned actions.

For the local authority officer the guide provides a comprehensive description of the implications of participation at whatever level. This can be immensely useful when convincing sceptical managers and councillors that consultation is more than just talking to people.

One of the most common arguments against community participation is that it is costly and time consuming. However, no-one has yet attempted to calculate the costs in terms of time and lost good will of getting it wrong.

TQM (Total Quality Management) is based on the simple notion that it is more cost effective to get it right first time than correct mistakes later. This guide provides some guidelines for TQM in participation.

The toolkit part of the pack provides a range of techniques and tools from which organisations and individuals can select. The tools assist in identifying blockages and suggest ways forward.

Careful selection and application of the most appropriate tool is an essential part of any job, but organisations using a tool for the first time may need to seek advice. The guide provides some signposts to further information about the tools and their use.

The relationship between providers and customers in the public social services is becoming an increasingly important one. Government is pressing the case for participation and partnership in urban regeneration. This book provides a guide to understanding and developing that relationship.

Brian Batson
Management in the Voluntary Sector Unit
Leeds Metropolitan University


This guide is intended for the growing number of people who say `I believe in the idea of community participation - but how do you do it?' Practitioners who are asking, for example:

  • How do you run a public meeting which doesn't turn into a slanging match?
  • When do you use surveys, and when do you get residents on a housing estate involved in building a model of the future they would like?
  • How do you deal with councillors who talk about participation, but are anxious not to lose control or status?
  • What is the difference between consultation, participation, partnership and empowerment?

The idea and funding for the guide came from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who promote and fund a wide range of research and development projects that pose these types of problems.

The original aim was to provide a quick overview of participation and then signpost readers to techniques.

However, it rapidly became clear that while there is plenty of theory about participation, there aren't many cookbooks easily available. In order to write the guide it was necessary to build a theoretical framework - a signposting system - and then summarise key topics and techniques in an A-Z of effective participation.

A health warning

Although this guide draws on a wide range of expertise, and drafts have been read by experienced practitioners, it hasn't been tested as a whole in the field. All the techniques are drawn from practice, but some come from Operational Research, some from community development, some from commercial consultancy and training. It is a mixed menu. I hope readers will let me know what works well, and what needs improvement, so that I can develop an improved later edition. See the inside front cover for details on how to comment.

I hope it is also clear from the text that techniques - however useful - are no substitue for the longer-term programmes of training and support likely to be needed when local groups take on major projects.

Who are you?

The guide is aimed mainly at people who have the task of starting and managing participation processes, or who control funds and other resources.

Who am I?

I started my working life as a journalist, mainly writing about planning, housing, transport and development in London. For the past 15 years I have specialised in consultancy and training for groups setting up partnership organisations like development trusts, and in designing national programmes to support them. The guide reflects this background and approach rather than, for example, social or health care.

Use of material

The guide is intended to be a resource which groups and organisations can develop for their own purposes, and you are free to copy and use material in the guide for internal training. I would be interested in any examples of this use, together with comments and additions for a later edition.

If you would like to use the material more extensively, please contact me:

David Wilcox
March 1994


This guide is a compilation of other people's ideas, brought together during development of the guide, and from work on consultancy projects over the past 15 years.

The suggestion for the guide, came from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, where Dr Janet Lewis and John Low have provided continuing support and encouragement.

After seminars with practitioners, an editorial group of Ann Holmes, Joan Kean, Charles Ritchie and Jerry Smith worked with me to create the main theoretical framework for the guide. They have provided continuing inspiration and direction.
Charles Ritchie and Joan Kean also provided some of the techniques, and thinking on how these could be signposted. Brian Batson provided additional techniques and comments, and Christine Flecknoe several of the topics. Annie Rosewarne, Steve Skinner, Steve Trivett, and Sarah del Tufo made helpful comments on drafts. Brian Sayer gave early advice on the overall structure and editorial approach.

A seminar of practitioners organised by Jeff Bishop and Geoff Caplan in Glasgow in 1993 provided valuable material for the sections on participation processes.

My clients over the years have also helped develop this guide. In particular, the ideas on levels of participation, and the techniques relevant to them, were developed with Les Robinson and and Diane Warburton for St Helen's borough council ten years ago.

Apologies to anyone whose assistance I have not acknowledged. Any errors are mine.

© David Wilcox. Material from this guide may be quoted in other publications or used, with attribution, for training purposes.

David Wilcox
13 Pelham Square
Brighton BN1 4ET, UK
Telephone +44 (0)1273 677377
Fax +44 (0)1273 677377273 677379
Published by Partnership Books.
ISBN 1-870298-00-4

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has supported this project as part of its programme of research and innovative development projects, which it hopes will be of value to policy makers and practitioners. The facts presented and views expressed in this report, however, are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

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